Women’s issues stimulate debate on Twitter

RGU CampusFeedback from Scottish Leaders' Debate

Researchers from Robert Gordon University (RGU) have continued their analysis of Twitter response to the televised leaders’ debates with an evaluation of over 22,000 tweets sent during last night’s STV debate. Tweets using the #scotdebates hashtag were collected and analysed.

The research follows on from the evaluation carried out during the BBC Scottish Leaders’ Debate on May 21. The STV debate was originally scheduled to take place on May 24 but was postponed following the Manchester bombing attack.

Key findings from last night reveal that the Twitter audience was most stimulated by the middle section of the debate where the politicians cross-examined each other.

“This suggests that the focussed questioning by the politicians resonated more with the Twitter audience at home and was perhaps the most probing part of the debate since it allowed for repeated questioning on issues such as the ‘rape clause’ and a second independence referendum,” suggested Professor Sarah Pedersen of the School of Creative and Cultural Business.

In particular, questions about the rape clause and Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) stimulated debate on Twitter and highlights the importance of gendered issues, despite the fact that most of the questions from the audience came from men and that the focus of most of the questions were on devolved issues.

Despite being mentioned by the panellists, there was an almost complete absence of discussions about Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn on Twitter. In fact, Patrick Harvie was mentioned as frequently and there were no tweets at all about either David Coburn or Paul Nuttall.

Using sentiment analysis (identifying whether comments were positive, negative or neutral) the team found that Twitter discussion of Ruth Davidson took a very negative turn in relation to debate around the rape clause. However, there was also a huge drop in sentiment from positive to negative for tweets mentioning Nicola Sturgeon from the middle part of the debate onwards. On the other hand, Sturgeon received the most positive response of the night on Twitter in relation to her attack on the Labour Party’s social policies.

“While these are only initial findings, we plan to undertake a full analysis that will provide a rich picture of the impact of political debates on Twitter over the coming months. This will contribute to a better understanding of how people are using social media to engage in political discussion,” explained Dr John Isaacs of the School of Computing Science and Digital Media.

The research team was composed of Professor Sarah Pedersen, Professor Simon Burnett, Dr Elizabeth Tait and Dr Graeme Baxter of the School of Creative and Cultural Business; Dr Iain MacLeod of the Aberdeen Business School and Dr John Isaacs of the School of Computing Science and Digital Media.